It is a question that has been asked me time and time again when people find out that I am supporting France at a major sporting event be it rugby or any sport. Especially when it involves England as the opposition.
As you would expect there is no straight forward answer, though the simple one is that having had a French mother it is very natural to support the country maternelle!
However there is more to it than that and some of the reasons are not pleasant to recall and are memories that I have long-buried away from my childhood school days.
I attended public school in Cornwall at an establishment that no longer exists. I spent nine years at the school from the age of 7. The first few years were for me a personal hell. News that a new boy was not of the correct breeding i.e. had a French mother was carte blanche for being the bete noir of the whole school. It was a personal hell, which has left it’s mark to this day. However I did learn to run, and to run fast, to escape the gangs and bullies who were out to get me at every break during the day.
As you can imagine my school work suffered badly in this climate of hate, but through it all an enduring friendship with one lad at the school made life bearable and I am pleased to say that almost forty years after having left the school we are still close friends and remain very much in contact to this day.
I learnt to run fast. That statement would leave many people today somewhat bemused given my somewhat portly appearance. With my speed I became a member of the rugby XV and the soccer X1 and an athlete who on sports day was capable of carrying off a cup or two. I had gradually earned some form of respect, but what a hard road it had been! I had to be different I couldn’t be like them!
There was one further event that turned be away from supporting England. My cousin, who is a few years older than me married a chap called Roger Harris. Roger in his prime was arguably the best hooker in England playing for Truro, St. Luke’s College, Plymouth Albion and Penryn. He also amassed 62 caps for Cornwall and played in the 1969 County Final at Redruth against Lancashire when Cornwall lost 11-9. A Barbarian and countless representative matches for the SouthWest against touring sides including the All Black Springboks and Wallabies. But he never got an England cap. John Pullin was the incumbent hooker for England. The closest he got was standing on the touch-line ready to come on against I believe Ireland in 1970. Pullin was injured but wouldn’t come off, his chance had come and gone. The stories of being Cornish made it doubly hard to play for England seemed to have some element of truth for young impressionable adolescent.
There is always a game that cements one’s loyalty for life. For me it was 1972 France v England in the last International match to be played at the old Stade Colombes in North West Paris. I watched the game at my Uncle’s house along with my Aunt and another Aunt in Perranporth all fervent England supporters. England were routed by six tries to one and I couldn’t contain my glee, much to the annoyance of family members. For the record France’s tries were scored by Duprat (2), Biemouret, Sillieres, Lux and Walter Spanghero with Pierre Villepreux kicking five of the six conversions and a penalty. It was the year that no matches were played in Ireland. For the record England lost all four games, whilst France fared little better with just the one win!
The love for the blue shirt was well and truly instilled and since that time I have enjoyed the highs and lows of French side’s performances. Highlights for me at Twickenham were the wins of 1983 (Rives final match for France against England), 1997 (The incredible comeback from 20-3 down to win 23-20 enroute to the Grand Slam) and 2005 (Yachvili’s six penalties for an 18-17 win over the World Champions). Best try Philippe Saint-Andre’s try started by Serge Blanco in the Grand Slam decider in 1991. I was seated in the North Stand middle tier and had a perfect view of the whole move. I missed the 1987 win at Twickenham as I did the draw in 1985, when Cornwall’s Chris Martin played full back for England when held up in a traffic jam on the way to to Twickenham! Lescarboura dropping three goals for France for 9-9.
So far I have only seen France v England in Paris once 1986 at the Parc des Princes, an awesome venue, when France tore England apart on a glorious spring afternoon in March scoring four tries in a 29-10 win. Blanco again was supreme as was Sella and Charvet.
The Rugby World Cup in 2007 was a thrill for me with it being held in France and I travelled to all of France’s games up to and including the quarter-final win in Cardiff over New Zealand.
My latest France game was in February at Murrayfield when France beat Scotland 23-17.
Roll on the next game, allez les bleus!